Gianna “Gigi” Riegel’s summer turned out to be nothing like anyone in her family imagined.
The 2-and-a-half year old was diagnosed with leukemia on June 7 and admitted to Riley Hospital, and four days later she was given the more specific diagnosis of acute myeloid leukemia, a very aggressive form of leukemia.
She started her first round of chemotherapy immediately, but last month, doctors told her that her only hope of beating the disease would be a bone marrow transplant due to a gene mutation called FLT3. While chemo would put her in remission, she would relapse every time without the transplant.
Now, as the granddaughter of Angie Ramirez, an instructor at Ross Education, the school is rallying behind the toddler and encouraging the community to “Be the Match.”
“She is a precious little girl that loves to help anyway that she can. She is always making people laugh. She loves to help the nurses take her vitals and listen to her own heart. She loves to hit the nurse button just to say ‘hi’ to the nurses or the one specific nurse she loves to blow kisses to,” said Ramirez. “During her stay at Riley she has touched many lives and people love to stop by her room just to say ‘hi.’ Please help us find ‘the perfect match’ so that she can grow up and continue to touch many lives.”
Through “Be the Match” people considering being bone marrow donors can register online at http://join.bethematch.org/Gigi. From there, click “join the registry” to get started. For those who meet the basic qualification, they will be sent a swab kit in the mail, which will arrive in three to seven business days.
Ross Education then is hosting a “swab party” on Aug. 16 at 5:30 p.m. where those who registered are encouraged to attend and bring their swab kit. There will be a pizza party and a webcast with Riegel. The kit comes with a postage paid envelope, so registrants will be able to send back their DNA sample to complete the registration process.
From there, matches will be made based on genetics. Shannon Spencer, campus director at Ross Education, said the swab events will be ongoing based on the results and whether a match was found. She encouraged people to consider registering and said the process of donating itself is fairly simple and painless.
“A lot of people think bone marrow transplants are painful. Yes, it’s not as easy as giving blood, but it’s not painful. They do put you under anesthetic and things like that so when you come up you might be a little sore, but it’s nothing like TV plays it out to be,” said Spencer.
Those who are eligible to join “Be the Match” must be between the ages of 18 and 60, live in the United States, meet health guidelines, and be willing to donate to any patient in need.
Ross Education is located at 196 E. Southway Boulevard.